My relationship with food has been more than a little messy over the last decade. Anyone raised with the ridiculous ads and body standards of today is likely to deal with some level of body dysmorphia, but throw in some relatives with comments like “eating like that’s just fine as long as you watch your waistline,” an abusive relationship, chronic illness, and an obscene level of perfectionism, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Up until the last year or so, I never weighed over 100lbs. For context, I’m about 5’3. I’m the only person I know that lied about having a heavier weight for their driver’s license! The behaviors began in my preteens, and hit what I consider their worst in my late teens. I over-exercised, severely restricted calories, and was scary skinny, but didn’t look it. There were a few years where people told me I looked overweight, or “curvy,” making that out to be a bad thing. In fact, my disordered eating had progressed to the point that my body’s muscles were deteriorating, leaving the skin loose. No one saw it as that, though. It was simply proof that I ate too much. Below is one of my senior photos, taken when I was around 90 pounds. The jeans were a size 0, and loose enough to fall down if I wasn’t careful.
As I finished high school and began college, my romantic relationship became increasingly dysfunctional. (It eventually became violent, forcing me to literally run for my life, but that’s a whole different post.) He made abundantly clear that he liked me small, which lined up with everything I had been taught up until that point. I was guilted and shamed for eating when we were alone, which led to binging when we were out with people, then restricting heavily at home. My BMI settled between 14 and 15.5.
I had no idea, at that point, that my eating was disordered. I mean, look! I ate a huge breakfast, a whole avocado and a couple eggs. Sure, I didn’t eat anything else that day, but that’s a lot of calories, right?
Well, no. Shortly after that relationship ended, a friend who was checking in on me asked about my eating habits. I think he expected a normal “just broke up with someone” list, some ice cream, some potato chips, maybe a little less than normal but nothing major. Instead, I proudly said my eating habits had not changed, and listed off what together should have been a meal. We’re talking a small salad, a mini cucumber, some salami, and a few chunks of cheese. Definitely not enough to sustain a 19-year-old college student. Mortified, he helped me figure out how to MacGyver some mac and cheese with odds and ends I found where I was staying, and although I only could handle a few bites, it was the most glorious pasta I’ve ever tasted.
Now, a little over a year later, I have put on just over 60 pounds. I’m at the upper end of the healthy range for the first time in my life. Despite what several people seem to think, making suggestions about “if you want to lose that weight…” and the dozens of messages about “fat-burning coffee,” the weight gain is not a bad thing. It has been wonderful.
For the first time I can remember, I don’t live in fear of blood sugar drops when I’m out. I an actually find things that don’t just hang off of me in stores. I actually look my age, and don’t have people asking me why I’m not in school when I run errands during the day. I don’t feel guilty for eating raw cookie dough or righteous for having a salad. And yes, I’m at a perfectly healthy weight.
I have to set boundaries to keep from falling back into old habits. My partner and I hold each other accountable for eating a reasonable amount of food during the day. I don’t download diet apps or count calories. I follow dietitians on YouTube to keep diet culture from slowly re-entering my vocabulary (my current favorite is the lovely Abbey Sharp). I go to physical therapy twice a week for my chronic pain, and use that as my exercise regimen, avoiding media that encourages exercise as a means to weight loss over health. I trust my gut in the grocery store, throwing chocolate chips into my cart alongside mini bell peppers and eggs, full-fat mozzarella balls next to a bag of spinach, and am equally excited about all of them (okay, maybe extra excited about the cheese).
I love my body for carrying me through two decades of abuse and neglect, a decade of starvation, and a whole mess of trauma, and still carrying me through my days. I love my stretch marks and cellulite because they are victory cries against diet culture and anorexia. I love my muscles that are finally beginning to come back and show themselves, because I worked hard to gain them back by keeping up with physical therapy and eating a whole lot of eggs and chickpeas to fuel them well. Fully recovered isn’t something I believe really exists, but I am healthy, I am whole, and I am actively loving my body as it is, now.